You all know, by now, that I’m a bit of a snooker fiend. In fact, Jo and I made the pilgrimage (and it is exactly that) to the home of snooker, Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre for the middle weekend of the World Snooker Championship in both 2012 and 2013. I decided, with regret, that we weren’t going to go this year, seeing as our Iceland trip would be making a rather large dent in our collective bank balances. Hey, it was a tough call, but someone had to make it.
It did feel weird watching proceedings on television last weekend though, weirder still to see some faces we recognised from last year’s journey. Sadly, the man dressed all in nylon fabrics I spent a Saturday next to last year, has eluded my notice so far…
Anyway, the semi finals are now well underway, with the second session of the Neil Roberton Mark Selby clash about to begin as I write. This match has the potential to be a real Crucible classic- although it also feels like a match which, if the first session is anything to go by, could still be going on on Monday night. Why shouldn’t it? Well, I’m exaggerating for effect (obviously) but Robertson is ranked #1 in the world, Selby #3 and the two have already shared some amazing finals. Although, having seen Robertson wipe out a seemingly unassailable lead to pip the Jester From Leicester in last year’s UK Final, Selby will surely not look back on that one with any fondness whatsoever. Robertson, for his part, has just completed a historic century of centuries. In the process of doing that, he completed yet another amazing comeback, trumping Judd to win 13-11 having been 11-8 down.
Robertson maybe the best potter of balls on the planet, but there should be no argument about his coolness under pressure either. Well, you don’t get to be world champion, or world #1 without being able to stand the heat. At just 5-3 down, this semi-final which could just as easily be the final, is very much a live concern for the Aussie.
I was going to begin this paragraph with the words, “On the other table”, but- clearly- there is no “other” table now. We’re just down to the one table, business end, set up. So, beginning again, in the other semi-final, Ronnie O’Sullivan is now 11-5 up on the Kent cueman Barry Hawkins after two sessions. Having talked about Selby and Robertson as a match fit for the final itself, I guess it’s worth saying that this match up was actually the final last year. Of course, “The Rocket” won that to seal his fifth world title and the first back to back championships of his career.
This is a sport at least as famous for improbable comebacks as it is for the decade defining dominance of Davis and Hendry in the 80’s and 90’s. However, it is all but certain now that Ronnie will take his place in the final- possibly by the end of this evening’s session and give himself a chance of a hat-trick of titles- the first hat trick since Hendry completed a run of five in a row in 1996.
It’s probably not worth, just yet, contemplating what another title would mean to the Rocket. Even if he renders the semi-final the formality it now appears to be, either of Selby or Robertson represents a significant barrier in the final. Robertson will want to underline his status world as world #1 by beating the greatest player to lift a cue, whilst Selby will be out for a revenge having been subjected to something of a battering in January’s Masters Final. That said, nobody who has seen Ronnie in action at Sheffield over the last two years would bet against him clearing these barriers as if it’s the easiest thing in the world.
Well, I wouldn’t.
Personally, I’m just hoping against hope that Ronnie doesn’t suffer a meltdown tonight. Barry Hawkins may not be everyone’s cup of tea, he certainly isn’t mine, but he has already proved over the last couple of years that he is no pushover. The way he came through his quarter final having seen a 11-5 lead become a 12-11 deficit in a first to 13 match is testament to that. He just never looks like he’s enjoying himself and it makes him very hard to watch. Still, I don’t suppose we’ll be suffering for much longer. After coming within two frames of losing to Joe Perry in the second round, Ronnie has gone on to win 28 frames of snooker, losing 8. To even get close to Ronnie it would have to be a herculean effort from “The Hawk”. And it has to happen tonight.
The semi finals will conclude on Saturday night, presumably with Neil Robertson and Mark Selby battering each other into the small hours. And then the fun really starts. Four sessions in what the BBC once called “snooker’s torture chamber” to decide the World Championship. Get the beers in, turn off your phone and, whatever you do, don’t answer the door. It’s going to be a classic weekend.
The only questions on my mind; why do Arsenal have to be playing on Sunday afternoon and, more importantly, why the hell did I book a curry with my mates in for Sunday night?